Steamboat Springs Former Steamboat Springs City Council President Kevin Bennett is considering running for a second tour of duty on a "back to basics" platform of protecting the city's water, expanding parks and open space and slowing the pace of development in Steamboat Springs.
Bennett served eight years on the council, from 1993 to 2001, and was president of the body from 1995 to 2001. Bennett has distributed surveys throughout the community in an effort to determine whether there is support for his candidacy and said he expects to make a decision within days. He said he would run for a four-year, District 1 seat representing western Steamboat and much of Old Town.
"I'm considering it. I'm talking to a lot of people in the community, asking questions," Bennett said. "I want to see how engaged the community is."
In 2004, Bennett received the city's prestigious, biennial Steamboat Springs Heritage Award - which recognizes outstanding community citizenship and qualities including human service, open space preservation and maintenance of community character - for his open space preservation and work in the construction of Centennial Hall, an effort that preserved the Carver Power Plant and created a community meeting area and city offices.
While acknowledging some of his past achievements, one current council member and potential opponent in this year's election, Cari Hermacinski, said Bennett's arguments against the current council are unfounded. Whether Bennett has the support to get elected could depend on how satisfied residents are with the current council.
"I would run as the loyal opposition," he said. "I would offer a completely different direction for the city."
If Bennett's potential candidacy is any indication, growth and development will be a major issue in the 2009 election, just as it was in 2007. Bennett said the current council is hurrying development projects and proposed annexations, and the survey he sent out asks whether all annexations more than 5 acres should go to a citywide vote, whether the proposed Steamboat 700 annexation should go to a vote and whether people "care that council members meet privately with developers."
"I think the rapid expansion we're seeing here is being rushed at the expense of the local citizenry and taxpayers," Bennett said.
Bennett cites water issues as his main example and decried the fact council has voted not to require water rights in its annexation agreement with Steamboat 700, which proposes 2,000 homes west of existing city limits. Bennett said that decision is "unfair to citizens of Old Town and unheard of in contemporary annexations."
The current council, its attorneys and city staff said they instead were comfortable accepting about $1 million earmarked for water projects, because the city's Water Supply Master Plan found that the city has a reliable long-term source of raw water but that it should "increase redundancy in the community's water supply."
"We don't have this sort of capacity," he said. "We will have redundancy but no reserves."
If Bennett decides to run, he may face off against his Old Town neighbor in the November election. Hermacinski has not decided whether she will run for the same four-year, District 1 seat as Bennett or the two-year, at-large seat she holds now.
Hermacinski said she absolutely disagrees with Bennett's claims that the city has been irresponsible about water. Bennett claims the current City Council let the city's water fund reserves dip as low as $15,000 before it raised rates by 50 percent late last year. Hermacinski said that's not true, and a report from the city's Finance Department shows the water fund's unrestricted, unreserved balance at the end of 2008 was about $100,000. That figure is down from $1.9 million at the end of 2007 and $2.6 million at the end of 2006.
By raising rates, Hermacinski said, this council was actually the first to do something about the problem. The city's failure to increase water rates for the past 15 years, as well as the habit of subsidizing the operating budget with tap fees that should go toward capital reserves, were thought to contribute to the water fund crisis.
Hermacinski said she also doesn't think the city is rushing Steamboat 700.
"It's been almost a two-year process," she said.
Other candidates who have confirmed their candidacy for this year's City Council election include incumbent Councilman Walter Magill, who holds a District 3 seat representing southern Steamboat; and local businessman Kenny Reisman, who said he would run for the four-year, District 2 seat representing the mountain area. Term-limited City Council President Loui Antonucci is vacating that seat.
City Clerk Julie Franklin said nomination petitions can't be released to potential candidates until Aug. 4. The last day to file petitions is Aug. 24. In the meantime, it is unclear who else might vie for the council seats.